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Union Roundup


“Billy Ray, a writer-director whose work includes Flightplan, said: ‘I’ve been in meetings of the Directors Guild and I don’t think there’s any stomach for a strike among them, and I’ve been in meetings with the Writers Guild and I think they can’t wait to go on strike.’”
That’s an excerpt from an article by David Smith, which appeared in the U.K.’s Observer in early September and was aptly titled “Strike Threat Spreads Panic in Hollywood.”
As to what kind of panic – no, not the swirl of emotions associated with the economic meltdown and subprime fallout (no one in a position of power in Hollywood will let themselves be tethered to anything with the name “subprime” on it), the consternation over accelerating global warming, or the alarm over the implications of that recent missing nuke from Barksdale Air Force Base – this actually all translates into a beehive of prestrike activity, which you already know from the frantic calls from your agent or watching the preshutdown jobs pile up on your calendar.
All eyes are now looking not toward Halloween, when the current WGA contract expires, but rather toward next June, just past summer solstice, in the days more harshly known as the end of the fiscal quarter when the great confluence of contract expirations happens.
“The unions say the industry is flush with money and they should get a fair share of the proceeds when their work appears on mobile phones and the web,” Smith writes. “But the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers, which represents the studios and networks, wants time to study how profitable these platforms will be.
“There have been bitter negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, whose last walkout in 1988 led to industry losses of an estimated $500 million and whose contract expires on 31 October. Many believe the writers will not strike until next year, when the Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild also come to the negotiations.”
So there we are, and with the producers and writers not meeting until later in September, there aren’t even any tea leaves to read, though it appears the dreaded “de facto” strike is happening, after all.
What are the implications of all this for the consumer of Hollywood’s product, as TV shows and films are generally viewed in the studio books? Well, the street has some interesting – and fairly insightful – armchair analysis of all this, at least judging from the responses to a “Would You Care About the Strike?” poll run by Cinematical, which is part of the Moviefone website. (Which therefore makes it part of AOL, and further, part of Time Warner. In other words, this poll is one small smidgen of Warner Bros. current content offerings).
“The guilds and the studios will come to an agreement which shares some of the profits from new media distribution (what will we call in it a few years when it’s not new anymore?),” says one poster on Cinematical’s board who, like all the respondents, scarcely worried that a shutdown would have any adverse affect on their own lives. “Then, those same studios will increase the consumer’s costs of that same new media. Like the U.S. oil companies, the studios will claim that they increased costs are a result of the new guild agreements, while posting record income and record high profits.”
Hmm … give that person a column! In any case, the comments touch on the current battle over keeping the internet as free – once you pay to log on, that is (whether through municipal taxes for your library, or even via that latte in the coffee shop) – or allowing a tiered system for high-speed content. We wrote about net neutrality in a previous UR, but since then, our benighted, and oh-so-just Department of Justice – yes, that one! In compassion-and-wisdom-filled Washington, D.C.! – weighed in with their views.
Surprisingly, they are for squeezing as much profit out of things as possible. Their position was stated succinctly by writer Chloe Albanesius, in an a post-Labor Day article for PC Magazine: “The Justice Department this week issued its support for a tiered approach to Internet service, and said that the imposition of net neutrality laws would hinder the continued growth of the Web.
“The DOJ submitted a filing to the Federal Communications Commission that voiced support for a system that would allow Internet service providers to provide quicker download times or site access for those willing to pay for it. Detractors of such a system want equal access – or net neutrality – so that every Web site on the Internet, whether it is a major company’s portal or a homemade storefront, has the same right to speed and access.”
Of course, the FCC will make the final decision on all this, as things now stand, but the fattening of the Internet pie – did we just mix metaphors? – certainly will do little to make any battles over new media revenue go away any time soon.
Like, say, before next June.
But there is other prestrike activity, too: The Film and Television Action Committee – as reported elsewhere in this issue by the estimable Jack Egan — has finally filed with the U.S. Trade Representative its petition charging Canada with unfair practices in terms of throwing subsidies around to draw filmmakers north of the border.
The trade rep has 45 days to investigate the claim, which may decide whether the World Trade Organization rules on the matter.
One interesting twist, not reported elsewhere: While FTAC held its kickoff conference for the petition at SAG headquarters here, one northern group quite miffed by the whole thing is none other than ACTRA – SAG’s Canadian counterpart.
ACTRA recently concluded a strike of its own – which some saw as a precursor for the issues dogging Hollywood. However, transborder union solidarity is looking a bit strained right now.
In an article about ACTRA’s reaction to the FTAC petition, written by Stuart Wood on the Cinema Blend website, comes this interesting paragraph: “Stephen Waddell, national executive director for ACTRA, also wryly points out a possibly unforeseen downside to the FTAC’s argument: ‘One of the ironies is that if it was found that Canadian subsidies did violate NAFTA, then that would make films into goods and services. Then we could take action against the U.S. networks for dumping their products into the Canadian television market.’”
You thought we were joking about shows and films being viewed as “product”?
As ever, stay tuned.
[email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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